Bodiam Castle - Picturesque Ruin

Picturesque Ruin

After the Civil War, Powell was made a baronet by Charles II. Although it is unrecorded when Bodiam Castle was dismantled (slighted), it was probably after it was bought by Powell. During and after the Civil War, many castles were slighted to prevent them from being reused. Not all were destroyed completely, and in some cases care was taken not to unnecessarily deface the structure. At Bodiam, it was deemed sufficient to dismantle the barbican, the bridges, and the buildings inside the castle. When Nathaniel Powell died in 1674 or 1675, Bodiam Castle was passed on to his son, also called Nathaniel. After the second Nathaniel, the castle came into the possession of Elizabeth Clitherow, his daughter-in-law.

In 1722 Sir Thomas Webster bought the castle. For over a century, Bodiam Castle and its associated manor descended through the Webster family. It was in this period that the site became popular as an early kind of tourist attraction because of its connection with the medieval period. The first drawings of Bodiam Castle date from the mid-18th century, when it was depicted as a ruin overgrown with ivy. Ruins and medieval buildings such as Bodiam Castle served as an inspiration for the revival in Gothic architecture and the renovation of old structures.

The third Sir Godfrey Webster began looking for buyers for the castle in 1815, and in 1829 he finally managed to sell it and 24 acres (10 ha) of the surrounding land to John 'Mad Jack' Fuller for £3,000 (£220,000 as of 2008). Fuller repaired one of the towers, added new gates to the site, and removed a cottage which had been built within the castle in the 18th century; he is thought to have bought the castle to prevent the Webster family from dismantling it and reusing its materials. George Cubitt, later Baron Ashcombe, purchased the castle and its 24 acres (97,000 m2) from Fuller's grandson in 1849, for over £5,000 (£410,000 as of 2008). Cubitt continued the renovations that Fuller started. He commissioned the first detailed survey of Bodiam Castle in 1864, and undertook repairs to the tower at the southwest corner of the site, which had almost entirely collapsed. Because there was then a fashion for ruins covered in ivy, the vegetation was not removed despite its detrimental effect on the masonry, and the trees which had taken root in the courtyard were left.

Lord Curzon decided that "so rare a treasure should neither be lost to our country nor desecrated by irreverent hands". Curzon made enquiries about buying the castle, but Cubitt did not wish to sell. However, after Cubitt's death, Curzon was able to make a deal with Cubitt's son, and he bought Bodiam Castle and its lands in 1916. Curzon began a programme of investigation at Bodiam in 1919, and with architect William Weir restored parts of the castle. The moat, on average about 5 ft (1.5 m) deep but 7 ft (2.1 m) deep in the southeast corner, was drained and 3 ft (0.9 m) of mud and silt removed; during excavations the original footings of the bridges to the castle were discovered. Nearby hedges and fences were removed to provide an unobscured view of the castle. There were excavations in the interior, and a well was discovered in the basement of the southwest tower. Vegetation was cleared, stonework repaired, and the original floor level re-established throughout the castle. A cottage was built to provide a museum to display the finds from the excavations and a home for a caretaker. Bodiam Castle was given to the National Trust in 1925.

The National Trust continued the restoration work, and added new roofs to the towers and gatehouse. Excavations were resumed in 1970, and the moat was once again drained. Bodiam Castle was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail in an establishing shot identifying it as "Swamp Castle" in the "Tale of Sir Lancelot" sequence. The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England carried out a survey of the earthworks surrounding Bodiam Castle in 1990. In the 1990s, Bodiam Castle was at the centre of a debate in castle studies over the balance between militaristic and social interpretations of such sites. The arguments focused on elements such as the apparent strength of the defences – such as the imposing moat – and elements of display. It has been suggested that the moat could have been drained in a day because the embankment surrounding it was not substantial, and that as such it did not pose a serious obstacle to an attacker. Also, the large windows in the castles exterior were defensive weak points. The castle is a Scheduled Monument, which means it is a "nationally important" historic building and archaeological site which has been given protection against unauthorised change. It is also a Grade I listed building, and recognised as an internationally important structure. Today the castle is open to the public, and according to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, over 170,000 people visited in 2010. In the opinion of historian Charles Coulson, Bodiam "represents the popular ideal of a medieval castle".

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